Championship Sales Teams Focus on “The Assist” – AKA Sales Development Rep

As we sit back and watch the final act in the pro basketball and hockey seasons, we have the opportunity to observe what it takes to deliver top-notch performance.
As we sit back and watch the final act in the NBA and NHL seasons, we have the opportunity to observe what it takes to deliver top-notch performance.

The NBA and NHL playoffs provide us with a handy analogy for sales teams. In fact, there’s one aspect of hockey and basketball that seems to stand out in today’s sales environment: “the assist.”

While sales has traditionally been a solo sport, like tennis or golf, today’s sales environments more closely resemble team sports like hockey and basketball. In fact, if you look at the most successful sales teams today, they have adopted a team model with a focus on sales development reps that “assist” other team members.

The importance of “the assist”

San Jose Sharks' Logan Couture (39) has 18 assists this season, leading the league.  (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
San Jose Sharks’ Logan Couture has 18 assists this season, leading the league.

The importance of seamless passing is nothing new to hockey aficionados. In fact, the way that hockey players move the puck among teammates has spread to other sports with the notion of the “hockey assist” – the pass before the pass that ultimately puts the puck at the feet of the scorer. This quick series of passes designed to leave the other side one step behind happens so fast that it relies on players knowing where their teammates will be before they even look to find them, an arrangement that obviously requires incredible coordination and strategy.

At the same time, NBA basketball has changed in a way that makes excellent passing and coordination more important than individual talent and physical ability. Star players obviously make an enormous impact, but teams seem to be winning playoff games more often based on their capacity to pass the ball so quickly and so often that the opponent is unable to keep up.

Top performing sales teams are moving beyond old models that focus on individual performers and are adopting a team approach to selling that quickly and seamlessly shuttles opportunities through the buying cycle. This team-based selling model starts with the sales development rep.

Building a strong bench of sales development reps

sales development rep bench
Livingston and Barbosa show strengths of Warriors bench in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Just like in basketball or hockey, a strong bench of sales development reps that consistently deliver “the assist” to closers, helps the team put up more WINS.

This realization has given way to the growth of specialized roles by sales stage – where you have sales development reps who handle the early stage of the sales funnel. While territory-based selling models still exist, even these models are often assisted by a sales development rep who serves as a liaison between marketing and inside sales or field sales.

A specialized sales model can vary from one sales organization to another, but typically fall into three main categories:

  1. Sales stage – organized by stages in the buying process, from top of the funnel to the bottom.
  2. Market served – Organized by geographies or industry. Often assisted by sales development reps.
  3. Product or service sold – characterized by reps who have deep knowledge of one product. Often assisted by sales development reps.

And these specializations are not mutually exclusive, meaning they are often used in conjunction with one another (especially in larger, more diverse organizations).

Understanding the sales development rep role

So what does the sales development rep role entail?

For many sales organizations there are two teams of sales development reps: lead development reps focused on qualifying inbound leads generated through the company’s marketing efforts, and business development reps focused on developing opportunities most often through outbound prospecting activity.

Lead Development Rep: This is typically an entry-level position, although it can vary based on the organization’s goals. It involves working with inbound leads generated by the marketing team.

Since the prospect is proactively reaching out to the organization, the main duties of the lead development rep are to respond adequately and qualify the prospect, handing off to an inside sales or field sales role.
Lead development rep

  • Type of leads: Inbound Leads
  • Type of Selling: Phone, email, chat
  • Pay Structure: Base pay plus bonus (usually monthly) based on productivity – number of calls / appointments set / qualified leads passed to closers / and in some organizations small incentive tied to actual closed deals

Business Development Rep: This is usually the next level in the inside sales organization hierarchy, however, again this can vary.

This role involves developing opportunities where the prospective buyer has not been proactive in reaching out to the sales organization. This role is more likely to align with field sales to develop larger opportunities, and can involve creating targeted lists, sending emails, making calls, and generally trying to navigate to a decision maker in order to gain their interest in the product or service.
Business development rep

  • Type of leads: Existing contacts, cold lists
  • Type of Selling: Phone, email, social listening
  • Pay Structure: Base pay plus bonus based on number of qualified leads passed to closer (typically targeting larger deals), and close rate on those leads

Just like the best-performing sales teams build out a bench of talent to move deals forward, a championship team has strong players at every position. When the winning team hoists the Stanley Cup or the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, we can appreciate the raw talent that contributed to their success, but let’s not forget the coordination and deeply refined process that put them in position to win.


matt reid thumbnail
About the author: Matt Reid is the vice president of marketing at Velocify. With more than 15 years of marketing, strategy, and management experience at Fortune 500 and early-stage technology companies alike, he oversees marketing, sales development, and growth strategies for Velocify’s complete solution portfolio. Prior to Velocify, Reid served as chief marketing officer for Procore Technologies, led global marketing for the advertising technology company OpenX, and built sales and marketing from the ground up for Eucalyptus Systems, an open-source cloud platform acquired by HP. Earlier in his career, Reid led product marketing for all SaaS technologies at Citrix, directing the initial market launches of GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar. Reid earned his Master of Business Administration degree in marketing at California State University, Sacramento, and dual bachelor’s degrees at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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